The strong, well-nourished government officials, in their clean, crisp, uniform clothing (how lucky they must be!) piled up this weeks’ blankets and pillows in front of the massive tower of food packages and water bottles. The frail crippled girl whimpered sadly, scared for her last wisps of life. Now the Providers were stomping on to build the next pile, made of freshly washed old clothes, hygiene supplies, and sanitizer that she would never see again. Next were the massive tower of tents; the bandages, ointment, and specialized medications those with health and physical troubles such as her own would be extremely lucky to get. The expansive fenced field seemed to be filled with tension and anxiety as the population waited ever so anxiously…
Finished, the officials marched solemnly back to the rope. Some people behind it sat in a lunge, hands on the muddy ground, bare bottoms in the air, ready to sprint for what could quite possibly be their life. One foolish little orphan boy, perhaps seven, snuck below the rope and crawled stealthily through the gap where no Providers stood to the first pile, escaping. The child was shot immediately by a keen-eyed official. The nameless cripple didn’t look surprised as the clatter of gunfire hit his screaming body; no one in the crowd shaded their eyes or yelped. Some idiotic person with no memory or knowledge snuck from behind the rope nearly every week and got shot by a government official; everyone was accustomed to it. She wished she could only have the ability to sneak out, although it would be an incredibly stupid idea. The head Provider, unfazed if not gleeful at the saddening death, began his announcement.
It was the same every week and the little girl could recite his speech by heart. “Citizens, welcome to this week’s Battle for supplies. When the rope is untied, every one of you will have a chance to race for your food, water, warmth, home, medicine, and toiletries for this week. Anything, including fallen members of the population, found in any pile is your property to eat or use. Those with the most items at the end of the pile course will be first in line next week. All clothing, tents, blankets, and pillows must be returned by five hours before next week’s Battle. Those who do not check in at the end of the race, return their reusable items by next week’s deadline, or do not present themselves for the next Battle will be tracked down by their microchip and shot. You may not steal from another after you have checked your supplies in. There are no other rules, restraints, or regulations. Good luck.”
She trembled fretfully, worrying that she might not make it to the next Battle. Her mother, the last of her family, had died of starvation and thirst last week and could no longer help her to move through the course. This week, there would not even be tiny packaged energy bars for her to manage grabbing. She seized up, liquid tracing down her cheeks, her breath shuddering and heaving in and out of her pitifully small chest. Why did it have to be this way? Why couldn’t a partially paralyzed young child find a morsel to eat? When her great-grandmother had been alive, long ago when she was only five, she had told of the beautiful time before the Battles; when there was no electric fence trapping everyone but the Providers in the field. Back then, long, long ago, everyone had food aplenty to eat and everyone had clothing and shelter whenever they wanted it and water ran from a magical spout inside their fancy, Provider-like houses. Back then, they had something called a “hospital” for little cripples like her, where kind officials who were really just like the rest of the population gave out medicine to everyone who needed it, and did something called “surgery” that could fix her poor legs. Why couldn’t it be like that beautiful time, that way?
The Providers raised the rope. The strongest ones, mostly young men who had gotten a humane share of supplies in the weeks before were nearly to the third pile, arms spilling over with items by the time the frail elderly, tiny orphans and undernourished mothers reached the nearly depleted first pile. One baby was accidentally dropped in the food and water pile by his skeletal mother. Before she could scoop the poor infant up, a dead-eyed, hungry-looking preadolescent boy snatched it, mouth watering at his edible find, baby screaming, sprinting harder than ever before. The heartbroken woman found no strength to stand… or perhaps no will to stand. She was trampled quickly and laid dead, body oddly contorted from a hundred feet positioning her fat- and muscle-less body each in a different direction.
The girl shook, rooted to her spot out of fear and disability as she watched the woman die… as she watched every crumb of food and every scrap of clothing get taken. The nice young teenage boy who had helped her stumble to the line earlier had an unreasonably humane quantity of supplies, and was now even dressed and munching on a ripe fruit - the luxury!- which just went to show how kind and generous he really was.
Ahead, all the Providers were checking out every supply, every necessity that she would never again receive. The crackling monotone of the buzzing electric fence stung her ears; the grisly steel wire embedded its tangle of gray into her weeping eyes. Her heart burned as she wept every care away, gasping out loud hiccupping sobs. She retched once. Soon she would be nothing but a dreadful pile of rotten flesh, a desperate meal for a desperate, starved citizen. If she was lucky, her body would remain stuck whole in the stinking mud, and the Providers would toss her into a pile of dead over the fence before she drew flies into the field and cluttered the starting line.
The sight of green grass and brown filth swirled into an ugly, swampy blob as her vision faded into tears. She prayed for kindness, for her life, although it would take a miracle to save her. The pain and terror swept her into nothing, water streaming in rivulets from her eyes like quicksilver, draining every molecule of liquid from her undernourished figure.
The world became a blur. She gasped, still moaning, still dying. Her breath quickened unnaturally, then slowed to a deathly dull. Her world was ending faster than her deprived mind could comprehend, but the little she could grasp was as torturous as a child’s thoughts could be.
It stopped. Everything was black. She was no more.
© Copyright 2016 Ella Winter. All rights reserved.